Illinois Public School Teachers Out-Earn Private Sector

Published April 1, 2009

While most of us struggle to make ends meet and put off our retirement plans in today’s contracting economy, Illinois school employees continue their unabated raid on public funds.

In fiscal year 2008, 11,254 Illinois public school employees had annual salaries exceeding $100,000, up from 9,591 in 2007. When pensions, retirement health insurance, and employee insurance are added, public school employees’ total compensation is about 30 percent more than their salary. That means more than 40,000 Illinois public school employees, or about 25 percent, have total compensation of more than $100,000 per year.

And that $100,000 does not include the value of tenure or a nine-month work year.

Comparing Compensation

As the accompanying table indicates, many subjects being taught by very highly compensated public employees could easily be outsourced to the private sector for much less.

Another point of comparison is how much these public employees could make in the private sector with their education and experience. For example, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for the Chicago area, salaries for non-teachers with bachelor’s degrees in fine art range from $24,000 for floral designers to $58,000 for painters, sculptors, and commercial designers working 12 months a year. Yet the state’s taxpayers give 71 public school teachers statewide, employed just nine months a year, between $100,000 and $161,000 a year in total compensation for those same skills.

In addition, taxpayers must guarantee the teachers their jobs (tenure) and pensions, whereas the private sector guarantees neither.

The same dynamic applies to other subjects, such as music, dance, and physical education. It seems unlikely, for example, that many experts in Latin and Hebrew make $137,000 plus tenure and pension in the private sector. To my knowledge, neither priests nor rabbis make nearly that much.

High Hourly Rates

The hourly rate calculation shows teaching jobs in Illinois compare favorably to the billing rate for professional services such as lawyers—except a lawyer’s hourly rate would include overhead such as cars, phones, computers, office space, and secretaries. What the lawyer takes home is a fraction of the hourly rate, whereas Illinois teachers are taking all of it home. And of course, no one guarantees a lawyer’s job or pension.

Thus the state could save the taxpayers some money by hiring a lawyer to teach driver’s ed or, better yet, to teach Latin, pro bono.

Teachers and their unions frequently argue they need to be paid more, or otherwise fewer qualified people will enter the profession. But substitute teachers are available for about $150 per day. Why not hire one to replace that $1,400 per day art teacher?

Also, according to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), Illinois districts outside the Chicago area pay much less yet seem to be able to fill their positions without a problem. For example, Cairo District 1 has a driver’s ed teacher with 19 years of experience working for a salary of $41,000 and an art teacher with 28 years of experience working for $52,000 a year.

Even allowing for a substantial cost-of-living adjustment, those public employee positions are filled at a fraction of the cost suburban Chicago schools pay.

Replacements Waiting

Most importantly, ISBE reports in 2007 there were at least 18,000 more newly certified teachers in Illinois than available teaching jobs. Over the past five years, that totals about 75,000 unemployed teachers. What other profession has a 30 percent unemployment rate but growing numbers of $100,000 salaries?

Clearly it’s wrong to say school districts won’t be able to hire teachers without paying six-figure salaries. The only thing making taxpayers liable for the outlandish compensation plans seen in the Chicago area is collusion between politicians and the teacher unions.

Taxpayers should not be forced to pay more for a given service than it should cost if purchased from the private sector. Taxes are exacted from the citizenry for the common good, and no good is served by overpaying for public services.

Bill Zettler ([email protected]) writes from Illinois.

For more information …

“Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois: 2007 Annual Report,” Illinois State Board of Education, December 2007: